I love reading historical fiction — a primary reason for why student life needs to end. My favourite stories are those that span generations of families and narrate monumental moments of history. I love being taken along as religion, politics, architecture, and landscape change in a living way. At turning points in history, the pace of change quickens. And at that speed, fathers and sons don’t always see eye to eye, friends discover they can no longer agree to disagree, and siblings may even stand on opposing sides of literal battlefields. The changes of the world seat themselves at dinner tables and talk on pillows. The reformations of populations become intensely personal.
When I look at the world today, I see no reason to believe that reality is any different from those stories. We have arrived at multiple turning points all at once — or, perhaps they tend to co-occur as the pulling of one thread begins to unravel all the threads that make up our tapestry. It’s not a wonder that we’re scrambling to adjust to this breathtaking, neck-breaking speed of transition. It’s not surprising or wrong that we may want to get off the train. It’s also not alarming or bad that we find we’re not all on the same side of every line. We’re not the same people; we don’t respond to life in the same way. Some of us are squirming uncomfortably, while others are releasing long-squelched rage; some are desperately disengaging and others are quietly learning; still others are clawing to escape the current and then there’s those who are building stubborn dams to shut it all off — for a few examples. We’re all faced with circumstances that no Sunday school lesson or doctoral program could’ve adequately prepared us for. And we’re short the resources we typically rely on: community, financial stability, assurances of health, self-care, activity, and routine. How we’re responding may be a surprise even to ourselves.
Whenever I’ve read about those the-world-will-never-be-the-same-again changes in history, I’ve earnestly wondered who I would be in such a time. Where would I fall on the spectrum of responses? Would I know what was right — without the power of hindsight to guide me — and, more, would I do what was right? I so badly want to get this right. This is my moment — our moment — in history to be storytellers, difference makers, and travellers of The Way. I will not leave this critical, catalytic age with shame and regret as my companions.
I’m here to get it right, not be right.BRENÉ BROWN
There are so many dissenting voices telling me what’s right. Each of them thinks the others are stunningly stupid or infuriatingly ignorant. And even though it’s okay — natural, even — that we don’t agree, there must be a truth in this. There has to be a right way to respond. Because I’m fairly certain Jesus would fall on one side or the other of this division. And I think where he would stand is quite clear.
I tend to pull away from making conclusive statements. I recognize that many things intertwine to make us all very different people with very different perspectives. I’m trained to remember that there are variables I can’t account for. But sometimes there is a hard line to draw, and right now it’s this: it should be very hard to get this wrong. I’m talking to travellers of The Way, citizens of the Upside Down Kingdom, followers of Jesus: it should be very hard to get this wrong.
When we see Jesus for the definitively countercultural, revolutionary, compassionate, gracious, inclusive, forgiving, and loving truth of who he was — is — it should be very hard to get this wrong. Jesus said a lot of things, but when asked to sum it all up, the greatest of everything was love. If we’re living in love, it should be very hard to get this wrong.
In the sermon of sermons, Jesus listed a whole bunch of people and blessed them. Let’s review who those people were: the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. What I see in that list is a lot of people in positions of weakness and less than. I see a lot of in need of the blessing, comfort, and presence of their Father.
There’s a population of here-and-now people who have been in those positions for a long time, and the whole of White Christianity is not that population. We’ve not been poor, mourning, meek, hungry, thirsty, merciful, pure, peacemaking, or persecuted. (And no, not being allowed to sing in a building because you need to protect the literal life of other people is not persecution.) We’ve been prospering, laughing, proud, gluttonous, satisfied, judging, compromising, war-mongering, and ruling. Perhaps that’s not true of all of as individuals but, as a whole, I see those things thriving in my spiritual family. For us, it’s unfortunately easy to get this wrong because we’re in the wrong damn position. We’ve been following a white-washed Jesus who bolsters our us-centred, nationalistic, political, personal-liberty-is-everything gospel — and who doesn’t exist.
It’s high past time that we take our gaze from that phantom saviour and look at the dark-skinned foreigner that we don’t understand. He’s waiting with all of his kindness, compassion, forgiveness, understanding, and blessing. He’s waiting for us to bruise our knees in repentance, to weary our arms in uplifting our brothers, to wet our faces with mourning, to break our backs with cross-bearing.
Maybe you could read what I’ve written here, and what I’ve written in posts like Off-Centre, and argue that they — the protesting populace — aren’t acting much like Jesus. They’re not turning their cheek, walking the extra mile, or loving their enemies. My first response is that that argument is based on a logical fallacy — tu quoque. It’s founded on the falsity that somehow guilting another party absolves your own guilt. Hint: it doesn’t. It’s a weak distraction from your responsibility to do the right thing. Which brings me to my second response: the protesting populace, the mistreated minorities, have spent generations begging us to do the right thing. They have turned cheeks, walked miles — upon miles — and loved us. It’s past *bleeping* time for us to see them and do right by them. I’ve no doubt that God has blessed them as they’ve waited and grieved, as they’ve been beaten and bullied, as they’ve toiled and tried — and as they’ve loved. But it’s time that we bless them, too.
This isn’t a turn-taking thing. It’s not, “You’ve been meek and humble for generations, it’s our turn now. You can misuse us.” But if it were, it’s our turn. (But, again, it’s not.) If we assume that giving up our throne means that we become slaves — we’re Pharaoh. You know him, the guys who ordered the murder of his slaves’ babies. If we think that giving liberty, equality, justice, and equity to those we’ve enslaved, oppressed, abused, and exploited means they’ll treat us in kind, we continue to disrespect them. We assume they’re like us; we forget that as they made homes in the dirt we assigned them to they were blessed. Jesus was in their midst, making them like him, infusing their weakness with his strength. He gave them the Kingdom of Heaven while we were busy hoarding the kingdom of earth. I’m not saying they’re perfect reflections of Jesus, but I am saying they’ve had such holy need of him. He has been rooted in them and among them in a way that we — those with much less need — have no idea of.
It’s time we get unacquainted with counterfeit blessings. That means giving up the things we’re clinging to with our stubborn little fingers and sharing the things we think we’ve earned. That means becoming the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. That means following the dark-skinned foreigner — the sometimes confusing revolutionary — wherever he goes. That means doing right by those we’ve done wrong by for much too long.
When I was a baby adult — freshly 18 — I lived for awhile with seven other young women who wanted to know Jesus better. Every day as we left the house we played a game. We raced to call shotgun — on each other. It was so much fun to give someone else a privilege and to take the literal backseat. It was life giving to prefer another above myself. Family, it’s time to get in the backseat.